As part of the cancer care multi-disciplinary team, radiation oncologists coordinate every aspect of care with oncologists, radiologists, surgeons and pathologists to provide personalized treatment plans for each patient.
Radiation therapy is often used to treat breast cancer after a tumor is removed. Radiation may be recommended to ensure that any cancer cells remaining in the lumpectomy area are destroyed. Since healthy cells, as well as cancer cells can be affected by radiation, partial breast irradiation minimizes exposure to the rest of the breast, skin, ribs, lungs and heart.
Partial breast irradiation administers radiation to only the immediate region surrounding the original tumor. This is the site where recurrence of breast cancer is most likely to occur.
In the past, radiation has been administered to a patient’s “entire” breast over an approximate seven week period of time. Because partial breast irradiation takes less time than external beam radiation, it is called accelerated partial breast irradiation (APBI).
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved this new technology in 2002. APBI has been used in clinical trials over the past 10 years. These trials have shown that in properly selected breast cancer patients, with early stage breast cancer, a week of partial breast irradiation is as effective as standard whole-breast radiation in preventing recurrence.
How APBI Works
During the lumpectomy surgery, or in a separate procedure, a catheter with a balloon at the tip is temporarily placed into the lumpectomy cavity where the tumor was removed. After surgery, the radiation oncologist sends a radioactive seed directly to the tumor site through the catheter. The high dose rate of radiation is usually administered as a complete course given twice a day for a total of five days. This is done on an outpatient basis. Each treatment takes only 5-15 minutes. The catheter stays in place for the entire treatment period. No radiation remains in the body between treatments or after the final treatment. At the end of the last treatment, the balloon is deflated and the catheter is removed.
What to Expect
Side effects from APBI are milder than those generally resulting from external beam radiation. Your doctor will explain how to prevent or manage these possible side effects:
- Pain and discomfort related to radiation.
- Skin and tissue changes during and after radiation.
- Fluid accumulation inside the lumpectomy cavity.
- Scar tissue.
Benefits of APBI
This newer approach to giving breast radiation improves the quality of life for many patients with breast cancer. An APBI treatment may decrease patients’ time commitment and travel distance often associated with receiving external beam radiation therapy. APBI treatment may allow more patients to preserve their breasts with breast conservation therapy.